why information literacy is a hard sell

As they are wont to do, a bunch of random ideas have just caromed off each other. This is your brain. This is your brain on a billiard table.

First, I was mulling over a funny thing that happened on a writers’ list. Someone asked a question about a medication. Another member, a librarian, pointed out a couple of wonderful resources where you can get answers to questions like hers. A third member said “here’s the answer. I’m a doctor.” And the chorus of replies was “Thank you so much! I always turn to experts! If I do my own research, I have to read too much and it’s confusing and some of it may be wrong.” Basically – “damn you, librarians, and your your tools of ambiguity; your solution requires judgment, and I don’t trust mine. Also, it’s work. Bah!”

So here’s the trouble with this thing we librarians believe in so passionately and have named so badly – information literacy. “I don’t want to think for myself, because its hard work and I might get it wrong; I just want an answer. Libraries are useless because they have far too many.”

That particular doctor was no doubt trustworthy. But what about those times when he’s not there, or it’s not his specialty? On this list you ask and hope someone who sounds credible pipes in with an answer.”Here’s a good place to look it up” is not a welcome suggestion.

What this collided with was in my billiard-table brain was some campaign folderol in the past twenty-four hours. McCain made a speech blasting Obama for only now going to Afghanistan. How could anyone possibly hold any informed opinion about a country in conflict if he hadn’t climbed off a plane and stood on its soil surrounded by cameras and heavily-armed security?

My immediate thought was “well, Obama does know how to read.”

I’m not saying expertise or first-hand experience is unimportant. But we have to make judgments all the time about things that we don’t know first hand and haven’t made our profession. We have to read and we have to winnow and yes, it’s work. But doing that work is the only way we can be free human beings. Weighing evidence is a skill everyone needs. You can defer to the experts, but sometimes they’re wrong or they’re biased or they’re lying, something Karl Rove turned into a science.

Sometimes, you have to think for yourself.

How do you learn to do that? That’s the hard part, but it should be what education is all about.

photo courtesy of jpstanley


3 Responses to why information literacy is a hard sell

  1. I think that’s right, and a useful pair of problems to bear in mind. Do you think the current economic crisis will cause people to apply self-reliance to information?

  2. Barbara says:

    Interesting thought … I sometimes think the campaign might make people dig into ideas to see what they’re made of, but I’m afraid it’s just making people deeply cynical about information altogether. Which is a sad thing.

  3. […] a fine line to walk. Oft quoted Barbara Fister pointed out why information literacy can be a hard sell when it comes to evaluating information: “…we have to make judgments all the time […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s